On July 3, 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood amidst the crowd in Big Meadows and officially dedicated Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Seventy-five years later, the nation is celebrating the anniversary of a park that is about 75 geographic miles from the Capital, but worlds away psychologically and spiritually. The official anniversary celebration is being held at Big Meadows on June 25, 2011.
The Thematic Mapper on the Landsat satellite captured this view of the heart of Shenandoah National Park on October 10, 2010, at the height of the fall “leaf-peeping” season. The orange and brown swath across the image highlights the hilly backbone of the park, where leaves had turned to their fall colors. The 169-kilometer (105-mile) Skyline Drive that meanders across the crest of the ridge is often jammed with tourists in autumn.
The long, narrow park in the Blue Ridge Mountains spans more than 179,000 acres, with 40 percent of the land protected as wilderness. More than 95 percent of the park is forested, sheltering 1,300 plant species and 267 types of trees and shrubs. The park contains 577 archeological sites, more than 100 cemeteries, and some rocks that date back a billion years.
The park includes more than 518 miles of hiking trails, including more than 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The highest peak is Hawksbill Mountain at 4,051 feet (1,235 m), but the most popular with hikers is Old Rag Mountain. A circuitous eight-mile (13 kilometer) trail leads to an exposed, rocky summit 3,291 feet (1,003 meters) above sea level. The 2,200 foot elevation change from base to summit, combined with several rock scrambles, make Old Rag not only the most popular but also the most dangerous hike.